Equipment Reviews, May 1997
The Becker Mexico Car Radio
Good shortwave reception in the car has been a dream for many of us who spend any appreciable amount of time behind the wheel. There have been various approaches to the problem in the past, such as using a portable radio in the car with an external antenna or converters, which shift segments of the SW bands in frequency so that they can be received on the car’s AM radio. There have intermittently been radios which can be mounted in a car’s dash which provide SW coverage. This is the ideal solution, in my mind, as it provides a secure location which is usually easily accessible by the driver. Models have occasionally been imported from Europe over the years, usually with limited shortwave coverage. A few years ago, the Phillips DC-777 in-dash receiver was available. It did an admirable job of receiving SW signals and provided a wide range of coverage, but many units had premature display and keypad failures.
A New Option
The German firm, Becker Automotive Systems, which has provided the radios used in Mercedes-Benz automobiles, is now promoting and distributing the Mexico 2340 car radio. It is an in-dash AM/FM/SW radio and stereo casette tape player. An optional CD changer can also be added to the system. The amount of shortwave coverage that it provides is limited to the major international broadcasting bands (and not all of those), but it is well built and sounds great.
The Mexico is manufactured in Germany and is designed for mounting in a DIN standard dash cut-out (approximately 7 inches wide and 2 inches high–the radio requires 6 3/8 inches of mounting depth). It is designed for four channel installations and provides 15 watts of continuous power (25 watts peak) per channel. In addtion, there are pre-amplifier outputs available for use with higher power amplifiers in custom installations. The frequency coverage of the radio is LW: 152-282 kHz, MW: 531-1602 kHz, SW: 5900-15700 kHz and FM: 87.5-108 MHz. The shortwave coverage is continuous, between the limits of 5900 kHz and 15700 kHz, when using keypad tuning. The band limits when the unit is being tuned in Search mode are: 49 mtrs/5900-6250 kHz, 41 mtrs/7100-7550 kHz, 31 mtrs/9300-10000 kHz, 25 mtrs/115000-12100 kHz, 22 mtrs/13600-13800 kHz and 19 mtrs/15000-15700 kHz. There are a variety of tuning methods–manual tuning in one kilohertz steps on LW, MW and SW, search tuning in five kilohertz steps (10 kHz on MW and 3 Khz on LW), direct keypad tuning and memory presets–10 each on LW, MW and SW, 30 on FM and an additional 10 Autostore FM memories. The cassette player is auto reverse and has both Dolby B and C noise reduction (a feature that was missing on the Phillips unit), as well as program scan and search features. There is an infrared remote control pad and the radio has a security code feature which inactivates the radio when power is removed, until the correct code number is entered. The lower half of the front panel, which contains the LCD display and keypad buttons can be detached from the main unit for additional security. The color of the LCD display can be adjusted in 15 gradations from red to green to match the car’s lighting scheme. I presume that the unit is single-conversion and no selectivity figures are given, other than the audio frequency response, which is listed as 50-3,000 Hertz in AM mode and 20-15,000 Hertz in FM.
Unless you have had previous experience with autosound equipment installation, it is probably best to have the Mexico installed by a professional. There is no standard for the way that the connectors that plug into car radios are wired and installation involves tracking down which wires are positive or ground and whether they are switched by the ignition key or not. Then there are the speaker leads, which are usually straight forward. However, my car system uses a separate tuner/amplifier system, so I also had to figure out the control line that turns on the amplifier when the radio is switched on. Since the review radio was loaned to me, I didn’t do a full installation–doing it properly would have involved cutting up the Becker’s wiring harness to make proper connections. In this case I used in-line tap connectors from Radio Shack to wire up the radio. Since room was tight, I only connected two audio channels and left the rear inputs on my car’s amp system floating. These tap connectors work fairly well, but I wouldn’t recommend them for a permanent installation, as the connection can be intermittent, especially with smaller gauge wires. The best method would be to solder the connections or to use the appropriate size “wire nut” type of connector. I used the car’s standard antenna.
I would have liked to have been able to have done a review based on several weeks listening to the Becker Mexico at various times of day. However, due to the installation–wires hanging out of the dash with the radio balanced precariously on the console, I couldn’t. My impressions are based on a couple of hours use on a Saturday afternoon, with the car parked in the garage. I must say, that in spite of the inaduqate test conditions, I was favorably impressed. The sensitivity seemed quite adequate and the search tuning mode stopped right on the carrier frequency of the detected stations. The sound was very pleasing, both on shortwave and FM. There was some whining noise (not from the alternator as the engine was off), but I suspect that it was due to the fact that I had left the rear inputs of the car’s amp unconnected, rather than a fault of the radio itself. Due to the relative lack of stations in the daytime, I wasn’t able to make a judgement concerning the set’s selectivity.
If you’re looking for an in-dash car radio that provides shortwave coverage, this is your only choice, as far as I know. The frequency range is somewhat limited–although there is some possibility of future models having additional coverage of the 16 and 13 meter bands, but the range is certainly acceptable for listening to the major (and some not so major) international broadcasters. I don’t think that the car environment is very conducive to DX’ing anyway, due to wind and road noise, as well as the need to pay attention to the road instead of ID’s buried in the noise. The unit is somewhat expensive at less than $600, but Becker has a reputation for quality and durability. After the initial installation, an in-dash unit such as the Mexico is certainly the most convenient way to get shortwave reception in a car. The unit is distributed in the US by Becker of North America, 16 Park Way, Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458, (201) 327-3434. Contact them for a list of dealers. Thank you Bill Crookham for providing the review unit.